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Old 03-07-2021, 09:55 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Frontiers of Imagination: The History of Science Fiction and Fantasy


You can’t truly call yourself a nerd unless you’re into sci-fi, and I certainly am, and was from a very early age. I can’t quite recall what first piqued my interest, though I would probably have to point to the re-runs of shows like Star Trek and Doctor Who on telly, as well as the far-ahead-of-its-time comic 2000 AD as influences. The whole idea of faraway worlds, alien beings, adventurers boldly going where not very many had gone before always appealed to me. Planets with strange names, sleek and deadly spaceships, futuristic settings and sexy alien girls (the latter of which I would have become more interested in as I grew a little older), to say nothing of a small interest in actual science and astronomy, all helped to push me towards that particular genre.

And then, perhaps inevitably, I got into fantasy fiction. I’m fairly sure my first experience of this was the grand-daddy of them all, that classic The Lord of the Rings, but it may have been slightly pre-empted by one of Michael Moorcock’s books, Stormbringer. If not, I read the two of them very close to one another. It was probably a good time to be, or getting into, science-fiction, as the seventies (which was when I grew up) was a time when sci-fi was finally beginning to break out of the restricted audience it had been forced into by adults (strictly for kids) with the likes of Flash Gordon and later Lost in Space, as shows like Star Trek, The Tomorrow People, Planet of the Apes, Logan’s Run and of course Dr. Who all showed that science-fiction could be enjoyed by adults.

Yeah, that’s nowhere near true. Most of them were still considered kid’s shows, and few if any were watched by adults. Star Trek was the one to break the mould, attracting not only adult viewers but educated ones - scientists, philosophers, lecturers and engineers among them - who watched the show and then praised it for its realism, its attention to detail, its tackling of real-world issues. Certainly, Star Trek was, if not the first sci-fi show aimed at an adult audience, the first really successful one. Anthology shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits had of course interested people of all ages, some of the stories better than others, and whole families might sit down to watch either show, but while these shows did tend to present moral arguments through their stories (one off-the-cuff example being the superb “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” episode of The Twilight Zone, which not only highlighted the paranoia about communism in America at the time, but also showed how we are all just one step away from reverting to barbarians and turning on each other) they didn’t quite build up the sort of fanatic following that Star Trek did, leading to campaigns for it to be reinstated when it was cancelled after three seasons.

But sci-fi is not just on the screen, large or small. Now a multi-billion dollar industry, it began of course with the written word and then progressed with the invention of the wireless to the radio waves, in time making its way onto the silver screen and thence to televisions and into the homes of millions of people, accepted by the masses to the point now where science fiction films can be blockbusters just the same as an action, drama or comedy. Sci-fi did not come of age in the twenty-first century, but it’s certainly well established now, and few would regard it any longer as being “just for kids.”

Much of this change in attitude is owed to huge movies such as the original Star Wars (now called A New Hope, but I’ll always know it as Star Wars, and god help anyone who calls it Star Wars I!) and, close on its heels, the more “mature” and earth-bound Close Encounters of the Third Kind. As movies like these broke all box-office records it was clear that science fiction as a genre was something people wanted, and not just the kids. Though completely different, the two films mentioned above do hold one common characteristic, prevalent in just about any sci-fi movie or series: they take us away, out of ourselves, away from the everyday and the mundane, to worlds that we can only dream of, that may exist, now or in the future, and where the problems we face in our humdrum lives either don’t matter, are tackled with new insights, or have been eliminated in a perfect society.

It’s escapism, and one thing people share is a love of being able to escape the cares and worries of their lives, whether it’s losing themselves in a book, filing into a cinema to watch the latest movie or just vegging out in front of the TV. And nothing helps one escape more than science fiction.

Though sci-fi does demand a small amount of thought or logic on the part of the reader, viewer or listener, fantasy, on the other hand, really doesn’t. The clue is in the name: in science fiction everything has to be rooted, at least in part, in workable science. So writers have to work to assure and show us that what they propose could work - doesn’t have to work, but it could. Ships can’t generally just fly through space powered by love, for example, and if a planet’s atmosphere is not breathable by humans, then taking off one’s helmet is going to result in a nasty experience. Weapons need to follow the laws of physics, as do most things, unless you’re going through a black hole, in which case all bets are off. Even so, black holes are said to obey certain characteristics of gravity, and must be seen to do so in any story involving them.

Fantasy doesn’t suffer from this restriction. In fantasy, literally anything can happen, and there’s no need for explanations. Logic does not have to apply. Science is usually either completely absent or replaced by one, ahem, magic word, which makes everything in fantasy work: magic. Magic can do everything. It can lift whole cities into the sky without any need to explain how it’s done. It can allow people to live to hundreds of years, ignoring logic and the physiology of man. It can let someone read your thoughts, grow to giant proportions or become a midget, turn objects into people and people into objects, or have the sky be purple or green, just because it is. Fantasy fiction demands the most strenuous suspension of disbelief; anything you can imagine can happen, and you can’t question it. As Lucy Lawless once said on The Simpsons, whenever that happens, a wizard did it. It’s the oldest and most overused get-out-of-jail-free card in the business, and it always works.

So it stands to reason that fantasy as a genre came first, before such a thing as science, never mind science fiction, was even thought of. It’s so much easier to write a story when you can just say what you want and your audience or readership will accept that on blind faith, believing you know more about it than they do. Pegasus flies? How? What is the science behind - oh yeah. Right. It’s fantasy. Odysseus meets a Cyclops? How can - oh yeah. Right. Well then, where do these orcs come fr - right.

Some fantasy writers, to be fair, do go and have gone to quite some lengths to explain how things occur in their worlds; some refuse to just go for the “a wizard did it” idea, though many do. Some have even merged science with their fantasy worlds - this is usually, though not always, known as science fantasy - and in the likes of steampunk and other speculative fiction, it’s the past, not the future, that’s the setting for the stories. But more of that as we go on. Right now I guess all we can say is that both science-fiction and fantasy are branches of speculative fiction, though always referred to as one or the other. There are, of course, many sub-genres of each, and we’ll be looking at these in due course.

What else will be looking at? Well, the famous timeline will run this journal, as it does most of my history ones, but as in many of them I’ll be veering away from it regularly to check out authors, works, worlds, concepts, movies and TV shows, comic books, anything that takes my fancy and that fits in with either of the two genres. On the timeline, I’ll be looking at the origins of both genres and their development across the centuries - in some cases even longer back - and how each has changed, adapted and managed to keep itself relevant in a world where more and more bright things are sparkling and attracting the short-term attention of this motley collection of atoms we call the human race. We’ll see how sci-fi movies have, in the main, moved away from the deeper, often darker themes favoured by fifties, sixties and seventies examples, where such movies were called cerebral and were pretty much only for the hardcore fan, into a more acceptable, widespread and mainstream area where action, romance and drama - and sometimes even horror - often take precedence over the science, if not the fiction.

Humour, too, seldom in any of the earlier movies or books, has made inroads into sci-fi and fantasy, creating in the case of the latter a new sub-genre - comic fantasy or humorous fantasy - and allowing both genres to stop always taking themselves too seriously, thus opening themselves up to a wider audience. Increased amounts of sex and violence is what the public seem to want, and sci-fi movies and TV shows oblige, constrained as any other media is to provide what is demanded by its audience. Fantasy, to a slightly less degree, though the paintings of Boris Vallejo would suggest otherwise! Fantasy has more embraced the humour aspect than the sexual one, which is not to say both are not in evidence, but as much fantasy is aimed still predominantly at a younger audience - Buffy, Supernatural, Charmed etc - the sex aspect is not only played down, but really usually not really welcome. An exception of course is the obvious, and Game of Thrones made its name on the visceral, brutal violence it brought to the small screen, as well as the - mostly gratuitous and in most cases unnecessary - sex. But both sell, and Game of Thrones pushed both hard, making it one of HBO’s biggest ever moneymakers.

Question: will I be covering horror in this journal? Answer: some. By its very nature, horror can be fantasy. It isn’t always, of course: the stories of Stephen King, Dean Koontz or Peter Straub aren’t always set in a futuristic or fantasy world, and more often than not are rooted in the real world, our world. This isn’t surprising: horror works best when it seems almost normal, everyday, when the guy standing behind us in the supermarket queue could be planning a grisly murder, or be able to see what we’re thinking, or the woman driving the bus is being told by voices in her head to crash it and kill everyone. Fantasy is fantasy, and while we might enjoy it, we don’t believe it can happen. No elves or goblins are going to accost us on the way to Waitrose, no dragon is going to swoop down from the sky over Manchester, and no mysterious bearded old man with a hint of danger about him is going to knock on our door in the dead of the night. These things don’t, generally, happen.

But much of what is written in horror can, or could. We can believe these stories because they seem real, they seem possible. That sort of horror I will be avoiding, as it has nothing really to do with science fiction or fantasy, and while it is indeed a third branch of that parent, speculative fiction, it doesn’t really concern us here. But horror crosses over into fantasy a lot - stories about vampires, werewolves, fairies, supernatural beings, or stories set in fantasy lands or times - and also occasionally, though not quite as much, into science-fiction. The movie Event Horizon is a good example of this: is it a horror science-fiction film or a science-fiction horror film? It’s probably both, and the likes of that will certainly be covered, as will The Raven, which takes as its subject matter the idea of Edgar Allen Poe being accused of murder.

So anywhere that the lines between horror and fantasy - or, less frequently as I said, sci-fi - blur, those examples will be covered. But in the main we’re exploring fantasy and science-fiction here, and this will be the focus of my efforts.
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Old 03-07-2021, 11:20 AM   #2 (permalink)
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The Raven isn't fantasy though...
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Old 03-07-2021, 11:35 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Though sci-fi does demand a small amount of thought or logic on the part of the reader, viewer or listener, fantasy, on the other hand, really doesn’t. The clue is in the name: in science fiction everything has to be rooted, at least in part, in workable science.
Not so sure about that. What do you mean by workable? What seems impossible today could be absolutely workable in just 50 years.

So you're saying if the science doesn't seem workable it's merely fantasy?
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Old 03-07-2021, 12:12 PM   #4 (permalink)
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The Raven isn't fantasy though...
It's not, true. Maybe I misspoke there. I'll have to reconsider.
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Not so sure about that. What do you mean by workable? What seems impossible today could be absolutely workable in just 50 years.

So you're saying if the science doesn't seem workable it's merely fantasy?
The key word is rooted. As far as I've read, and science fiction fans seem to agree, at least SOME of the science has to work, or be expected to work. It just means that you can't have, as I said, a ship going through space powered by love or fairy dust. If those fairies, however, are genetically-modified life forms and the dust they give off can be used as a propellant, maybe. It's just my way of trying to separate science fiction from fantasy. It's not that terribly important; most of us know the difference. But there is, for instance, raging and quite vitriolic debate over whether Anne McCaffrey's Pern cycle is science fiction or fantasy.

The word "workable" may be a bad choice; basically I mean the science has to be, on the face of it, something that could work. You can't just make it up, or indeed, as in fantasy, most often ignore it entirely. Some definitions:

https://www.masterclass.com/articles...on-and-fantasy

As should be obvious by now, science fiction and fantasy overlap quite a bit. There are even subgenres like science fantasy that explicitly blend the two:

Plausibility: A science fiction story generally extrapolates elements of the modern world and attempts to predict how they could possibly develop. Fantasy, on the other hand, uses supernatural elements that have no link to our contemporary world. A useful way of thinking about the differences between the genres is that the fantasy genre traffics in the impossible, whereas science fiction can be thought of as speculative fiction that draws its internal logic from the real world.
Setting: Generally speaking, science fiction stories often take place in a dystopian, hyper-technological future. Fantasy stories are traditionally set in worlds populated by mythical creatures and supernatural events. The world itself can look quite similar to our own, but it has fantastical elements.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_fantasy

In a science fiction story, the world is presented as being scientifically possible, while a science fantasy world contains elements which violate the scientific laws of the real world. Nevertheless, the world of science fantasy is logical and often is supplied with science-like explanations of these violations
.

https://www.nownovel.com/blog/differ...ience-fiction/

Science fiction deals with scenarios and technology that are possible or may be possible based on science. Some science fiction such as far-future space opera or time travel stories may seem implausible, but they are still not beyond the realm of scientific theory. On the other hand, fantasy general deals with supernatural and magical occurrences that have no basis in science.


https://www.writersdigest.com/writin...-needs-to-know

How then, can a screenplay with super-powered characters remain science fiction? Simple, create a scientific reason for the powers to exist. Yes, this is possible. Take The Matrix for example. By the film's end, Neo can fly, stop bullets in mid-air and move with superhuman speed. The real question is, how? We learn that Neo's world is a neurally based interactive simulation-basically a virtual reality video game in which the entire population of Earth lives out their lives. As we all know, rules in computer simulations and video games can be broken, allowing characters to fly and have other god-like powers. Science rules the world of The Matrix, a perfect example of superpowers within the realm of pure science fiction.

Basically, if the fantastical elements in your story can't be explained by science, then it's not pure science fiction. And if you're not writing strictly science fiction, then you've got a whole new ballgame called fantasy.
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Old 03-07-2021, 02:25 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Having only read a bit of the first Pern novel I can't truly weigh in but any series predicated on people riding dragons is ****ing fantasy. I need to finish that book. It was good.
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Old 03-07-2021, 04:38 PM   #6 (permalink)
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It's not, true. Maybe I misspoke there. I'll have to reconsider.


The key word is rooted. As far as I've read, and science fiction fans seem to agree, at least SOME of the science has to work, or be expected to work. It just means that you can't have, as I said, a ship going through space powered by love or fairy dust. If those fairies, however, are genetically-modified life forms and the dust they give off can be used as a propellant, maybe. It's just my way of trying to separate science fiction from fantasy. It's not that terribly important; most of us know the difference. But there is, for instance, raging and quite vitriolic debate over whether Anne McCaffrey's Pern cycle is science fiction or fantasy.

The word "workable" may be a bad choice; basically I mean the science has to be, on the face of it, something that could work. You can't just make it up, or indeed, as in fantasy, most often ignore it entirely. Some definitions:

https://www.masterclass.com/articles...on-and-fantasy

As should be obvious by now, science fiction and fantasy overlap quite a bit. There are even subgenres like science fantasy that explicitly blend the two:

Plausibility: A science fiction story generally extrapolates elements of the modern world and attempts to predict how they could possibly develop. Fantasy, on the other hand, uses supernatural elements that have no link to our contemporary world. A useful way of thinking about the differences between the genres is that the fantasy genre traffics in the impossible, whereas science fiction can be thought of as speculative fiction that draws its internal logic from the real world.
Setting: Generally speaking, science fiction stories often take place in a dystopian, hyper-technological future. Fantasy stories are traditionally set in worlds populated by mythical creatures and supernatural events. The world itself can look quite similar to our own, but it has fantastical elements.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_fantasy

In a science fiction story, the world is presented as being scientifically possible, while a science fantasy world contains elements which violate the scientific laws of the real world. Nevertheless, the world of science fantasy is logical and often is supplied with science-like explanations of these violations
.

https://www.nownovel.com/blog/differ...ience-fiction/

Science fiction deals with scenarios and technology that are possible or may be possible based on science. Some science fiction such as far-future space opera or time travel stories may seem implausible, but they are still not beyond the realm of scientific theory. On the other hand, fantasy general deals with supernatural and magical occurrences that have no basis in science.


https://www.writersdigest.com/writin...-needs-to-know

How then, can a screenplay with super-powered characters remain science fiction? Simple, create a scientific reason for the powers to exist. Yes, this is possible. Take The Matrix for example. By the film's end, Neo can fly, stop bullets in mid-air and move with superhuman speed. The real question is, how? We learn that Neo's world is a neurally based interactive simulation-basically a virtual reality video game in which the entire population of Earth lives out their lives. As we all know, rules in computer simulations and video games can be broken, allowing characters to fly and have other god-like powers. Science rules the world of The Matrix, a perfect example of superpowers within the realm of pure science fiction.

Basically, if the fantastical elements in your story can't be explained by science, then it's not pure science fiction. And if you're not writing strictly science fiction, then you've got a whole new ballgame called fantasy.
Thanks, but good lord, I'd never write a thing if I had to be concerned with all that. I think research needs to be thorough before you start writing in any genre. In fact, as you infer, the logistics of the world you're describing needs to be nailed down before your flights of fancy can truly take off. But plausibility is darned near irrelevant, imo.
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Old 03-07-2021, 05:10 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Batty, the thing about Pern (I've only read one book but in my research and conversations with other nerds was advised of this) is that her dragons are like, genetically created, the science behind them explained, so again it could be science fiction or fantasy. Her series have won awards in both fields.

Ando, I get what you're saying, and when I write I don't concern myself too much with that either, but you will get fans who are into sf and not into fantasy and vice versa - in fact, some who are rabidly against the "other" genre - so you need to know what you're talking about, especially when you set out to write the history of both genres. It's not necessary to enjoy, or even to be fair to write the stuff: that's more for the reader, and, more importantly, the publisher, as to which market they put their efforts into.
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Old 03-07-2021, 07:32 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Batty, the thing about Pern (I've only read one book but in my research and conversations with other nerds was advised of this) is that her dragons are like, genetically created, the science behind them explained, so again it could be science fiction or fantasy. Her series have won awards in both fields.
Yeah I understand that there's sci do in there. The dragons are pretty clearly alien but it's still knights riding dragons. Sci to is an adjective to fantasy.
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Old 03-08-2021, 09:20 AM   #9 (permalink)
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SUB-GENRES (SCIENCE-FICTION)

I’m not certain if this is an officially approved or accepted list, but this seems to cover most if not all of the sub-genres in science-fiction. This is of course just a very basic introduction to each. Later on, as the journal develops, I’ll be looking more deeply into some of them.

Alien Invasion

Speaks for itself. Story focuses on an invasion from another world/galaxy, and the struggle to repel the invaders. Classics of this sub-genre would of course be the likes of H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, movies like Independence Day and TV series such as Colony, V and Falling Skies.

Alternate History

Again, kind of self-explanatory. Concerned with a future (or present, or even in some cases past) where history has developed and unfolded differently to the one we live in. Seismic events such as, for instance, the Nazis winning World War II or aliens invading the day before 9/11, or maybe Christ being taken away by aliens and not therefore able to rise, leading to the death of the small sect he had started, change the world and make a whole new timeline in which anything can happen. Dinosaurs not dying out 65 million years ago. Atlantis not sinking into the sea. The Cuban Missile crisis leading to nuclear war. Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula novels are a good example here. While strictly more horror and fantasy, they embrace the “alternate history” idea in this sub-genre. Others would be Len Deighton’s reimagining of WW II in SS GB and Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.

Alternate Universe

Perhaps similar to Alternate History, this sub-genre is not confined to changes in Earth’s history, and can involve completely different and wildly changed landscapes. In an alternate universe, for instance, oxygen could be poison to the human race, or humans could be born with wings, or the entire planet could be sealed off from the rest of space for some reason. I guess to some extent, if Alternate History poses the question “what if?” then Alternate Universe says “why not?”

Apocalyptic/Post-Apocalyptic

Still not too much explanation needed. Apocalyptic fiction concerns a coming disaster - asteroid approaching Earth, massive earthquake, volcano, moon leaving orbit etc - while Post-Apocalyptic, obviously, deals with the events after such an occurrence. There is a degree of crossover between this sub-genre and Dying or Ruined Earth, as well as Dystopian.

Artificial Intelligence

Any work of science-fiction in which the world is either threatened by, invaded by or run by robots or computers, where humans are seen and dealt with as second-class, and where they have to fight for their survival, either in a war or as a resistance after having been defeated. The most famous example of this is of course the Terminator series of movies.

Colonisation

Where humans move out into the stars, searching for a new home. Such fiction can take place during the voyage to the new planet, or after arrival there. Perhaps to some degree this could be seen as being interchangeable with Alien Invasion fiction, if the “invasion” is written from the point of view of the aliens.

Cyberpunk

Coined, I believe, by the man accepted as the father of the sub-genre, William Gibson, cyberpunk concerns a world where the social order has broken down and people tend to seek refuge in computer games, AI environments or technological bodily enhancements. Neuromancer is the touchstone here, and for movies we’re talking both The Matrix and Blade Runner.

Dying Earth


Set in the far, far future, at a time when the Earth is literally dying as the sun burns itself out, the laws of time and space have begun to break down and entropy is working its will on the universe. In this sub-genre science and magic mesh, cross over, become indistinguishable from each other, so perhaps in some ways you could say Dying Earth fiction is where science-fiction and fantasy often meet.

Dystopian

One of the most overused and perhaps also misunderstood sub-genres, dystopian fiction concerns dark futures, usually the triumph of evil over good, the beating down of the human spirit and the erosion of human rights. Often set in police states, or even worlds, classic dystopian fiction include George Orwell’s genre-defining Nineteen Eighty-four, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Ray Badbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange as well as Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen.

First Contact

Any story that takes as its subject the first meeting of Man with aliens, or any other alien species with any alien species they encounter for the first time.

Galactic Empire

A story which has at its core a ruling empire that controls star systems, even galaxies. It may also be the story of the internal machinations within such an organisation, its birth, rise and decline, or all three. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy and Simon R. Green’s Deathstalker novels would be examples here, while the most obvious candidate movie-wise would be the Star Wars franchise.

Generation Ship

Somewhat similar to a Colonisation story, these would be set on a multi-generation ship which would travel through space to its final destination, generations being born, living and dying aboard the ship before it finally arrived.

Hard SF

There are no compromises in this sub-genre, and you had better know your shit if you’re going to write it. You also had better be seriously interested in science, as these types of stories go deep, deep into the science, the mechanics and the mathematics of what makes everything work in the story. Sounds a bit boring to me, personally.

Human Development

Focuses on the evolution of humanity, whether it be via computer implants or enhanced mental abilities.

Immortality

Surely I hardly need explain this one, need I?

Light/Humorous

The kind of stories that refuse to take science-fiction too seriously. The obvious example here is Douglas Adams’s Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, while movies would be the likes of Mars Attacks!, My Stepmother is an Alien and Men in Black, while Red Dwarf more or less carries the flag for humorous SF on telly.

Military

Concerned with wars, campaigns, invasions, rebellions and all that sort of stuff. Most likely to focus heavily on things like strategy and weaponry, and possibly too the ultimate futility and insanity of war. The one that jumps immediately to my mind here is Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, while on the box I can think of Space: Above and Beyond.

Mind Uploading

Maybe a slight crossover here with AI and Cyberpunk, these stories are centred on the attempts by humans to digitise themselves and upload themselves to computer systems. I guess Tron might be a good example of a movie in this sub-genre, as would The Matrix.

Mundane SF

Now this confuses me. The description says that it takes place in the present, and uses only the science and tech we currently have. How does that make it science-fiction? Don’t ask me: I didn’t write the list.

Mutants

Sci-fi about, oh, how can I put this? Oh yeah. Mutants. Your obvious example here is the X-Men and to some smaller degree perhaps Mutant X and Heroes.

Mythic Fiction (SF)

Takes the tropes and figures from fantasy and mythology and weaves a science-fiction story around those. I guess you could imagine something like the Star Trek episode “Who Mourns for Adonais” where the crew come across an alien being who turns out to be the Greek god Apollo. Or says he is anyway.

Nanotechnology

You all know what nanotech is, yes? Tiny, atom-sized robots that can make things by sticking together, or go inside a human body or brain (theoretically anyway).

Near-Future

Something like Mundane SF, perhaps, but a step slightly closer to the future, though still set close to our own time, maybe a few decades later, but not much more than that.

Pulp

No, I won’t add “fiction”! Pulp magazines were the inexpensive, sensationalist comics and magazines popular in the 1950s, often with sci-fi or horror stories, as well as crime and romance ones. Most of these would probably be your Flash Gordonesque man-in-a-spacesuit-flies-pointy-rocket-to-Mars kind of thing. Very basic.

Robots/Androids

Slightly distinct from AI, these stories have as their protagonist or antagonist automatons, as in Asimov’s I, Robot and many of his other robot stories and novels, or maybe the Transformers movies? You get the general idea though.

Science-Fantasy

Already touched on, and again a giveaway in the title, this is where science-fiction and fantasy meet, with the stories taking elements from both genres. Anne McCaffrey’s Pern cycle and, to a lesser degree perhaps, Terry Brooks’s Shanarra series are examples of this sub-genre.

Singularity

This seems to focus on a single event which, by its occurrence, advances the course of human technological or biological advance by a massive amount. Uh, yeah. We’ll no doubt come back to this one, as it’s another that I don’t quite get. On we go.

Slipstream

Apparently, where real-world and science-fiction (or speculative fiction) collide. Usually set in the present or a version of it. Think Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. It says here.

Soft SF

Involves the less exact sciences such as sociology, psychology and anthropology. Right. Okay.

Space Exploration

Now this is going to take some explaining. See, this sub-genre concerns, how can I put this, exploration of, well, space. I know it’s hard to understand, but try… Naturally, Star Trek in all its various forms is the purest example of this sub-genre.

Space Opera

A sub-genre in which very fat alien ladies sing arias while people…. No. You know what a soap opera is? Well, they just call them soaps now. Yes? Well, space opera is basically that: an unfolding, developing, evolving story featuring many characters and situations, interlinked themes and ideas and concepts, but set in space. They’re not always too concerned about the science, and place the emphasis on fun and adventure rather than realism. Best example of a space opera? Well, see, long ago in a galaxy far, far away….

Steampunk

Think science-fiction set in the Victorian era, with the kind of advancements proposed by the likes of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne actually happening within that century, and you have a good idea about this. Weird machines flying powered by steam, steam-driven robots etc.

Terraforming

Something similar to Colonisation SF, these stories involve the attempts to mould an inhospitable planet or planets to support human life.

Theological

Promotes the idea of gods as space travellers, prophets as travellers in time and so on.

Time Travel

You may have to think about this one…

Uplift

Where a more technologically advanced race helps a less capable one, basically uplifting them to a new level of technological or biological superiority. The Vorlons in Babylon 5 would be an example of such a civilisation, as would Karellen and the Overlords in Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End and of course the aliens in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Utopia

I think everyone knows what Utopia entails. The diametric opposite of dystopia, these stories are set in a perfect world.

Virtual Reality

I think this is pretty self-explanatory, no?

Weird SF

This, however, isn’t. Here’s how one of the writers of this sub-genre describes it: "The fact of the weird is the fact that the worldweave is ripped and unfinished. Moth-eaten, ill-made. And through the little tears, from behind the ragged edges, things are looking at us."
Okay. Right. Generally, it seems “weird SF” takes elements of science-fiction, fantasy and even horror and mixes them all up.
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Old 03-09-2021, 09:51 AM   #10 (permalink)
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SUB-GENRES (FANTASY)

Not quite as much scope for branching out in fantasy fiction, but there are still a lot of sub-genres.

Alternate History

More or less the same as in science fiction; here, you might have things like the Roman Empire being run on magic, or, I don’t know, Nazi elves or something? Probably can be tenuously linked to Steampunk?

Comic Fantasy (also known as Humorous Fantasy)

Again, easy to understand. Fantasy with an element of humour mixed in, fantasy that doesn’t take itself too seriously, that may lampoon well known fantasy or other works (Bored of the Rings, for example) or just create new worlds in which anything can happen, and usually does, in a funny way. Comic fantasy often contains satirical stabs at the real world and some authors, notably Piers Anthony, use a lot of puns and wordplay in their work. Craig Shaw Gardner’s Dwarfs books, Robert Aspirin’s Myth cycle and the work of Tom Holt fit into this sub-genre, though the undisputed master of the form is the late Sir Terry Pratchett, with his Discworld series.

Contemporary Fantasy


A little like the horror material I spoke of earlier, which I don’t intend to cover, fantasy in this sub-genre takes place in our world, our time; a sort of secret society that lives just beyond our sight or without our knowledge. The likes of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere fit into this category, as do series like Buffy and Supernatural, the idea being that while normal folk go on doing normal things, fantastical battles are fought and magic is used without the knowledge of anyone outside of the circle, as it were.

Dark Fantasy

Brings in elements of horror to fantasy, while still remaining firmly fantasy-based stories.

Erotic Fantasy

Yeah…

Fairytale Fantasy


Fantasy stories set in, using or creating folklore-based worlds.

Fantasy of Manners


Takes the old literature genre of Comedy of Manners and applies a fantasy setting.

Heroic Fantasy

You know what to expect here, I’m sure.

High Fantasy

No, not the kind of trip where you see dragons and princesses after taking too much LSD! High Fantasy has no time for humour, being totally serious, sometimes so up itself it’s hard not to laugh, but creating the most detailed and intricate plots, characters and worlds. High Fantasy often tends to spawn multi-book epics or films with sequels. The absolute pinnacle of High Fantasy of course is The Lord of the Rings, though series like Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant Chronicles and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time sagas are also high (sorry) on the list.

Historical Fantasy

Based in a real-world period of history (maybe Medieval England or Renaissance Italy) where magic is used in the story.

Juvenile Fantasy

I feel this may now be called YA, or Young Adult Fantasy, and it does exactly what it says on the tin: young fantasy for young people featuring young characters and dealing with the issues they come up against in their young lives. Bah, say I. Look to C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia for the best known example of this sub-genre.

Low Fantasy

Possibly best described as “Fantasy Noir”, this sub-genre emphasises the darker, grittier aspect of the fantasy world, with things like crime, rape, prostitution and drug addiction used in its themes.

Magic Realism


Uh, it says “Magic Realism presents fantastic and mundane elements side-by-side as if there is no conflict between the two”. Right. Again, sounds boring to me. I've since learned that Stephen King's The Green Mile is considered an example of this sub-genre. This does not help me understand it any more than I did previously.

Mythic Fantasy

Based loosely or entirely on figures from various mythologies, folklore or legends.

Romantic Fantasy

Yup.

Superhero Fantasy

Fantasy stories with superheroes. Yeah.

Sword and Sorcery

Apart from High Fantasy - and, increasingly, Comic Fantasy - surely the most popular and prevalent sub-genre in fantasy fiction. Warriors and barbarians wielding swords and rippling with muscles take on crafty, centuries-old wizards and go on quests because, well, that’s what you do when you're a warrior or barbarian wielding a sword and rippling with muscles, and when you talk to crafty, centuries-old wizards in these kinds of stories. Conan the Barbarian is of course the first example that leaps to mind (Crom!) but Fritz Leiber and Karl Edward Wagner are also well known as experts in this sub-genre.

Urban Fantasy

Usually, though not always, set in modern times, these stories are always however confined to a city.

Weird Fantasy


Pretty much the same as Weird SF really.

If anyone thinks my explanations and descriptions here are inadequate (they are) or don’t explain what the sub-genre is about (they don’t) please check out the article I took them from, which does a much better job and goes into each in far more detail. I just didn’t want to copy it verbatim. Also, I’m lazy.

Genres & Sub Genres | WWEnd
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